Episode 106 – Wels Catfish: Some Fishy Tales

“…and today we’re talking about a fish of legend for which meat is back on the menu.”

If you ever find yourself swimming in the freshwater lakes and streams in Europe, you may want to keep an eye on dark waters below. The Wels catfish may not have the teeth or temperament of a shark or crocodile, but it has just as fearsome of a reputation. Known for centuries as a man eater, the Wels catfish may be the deadliest freshwater fish to date. But we’ll just have to find out how true the stories are here in Life Death and Taxonomy.


  • The Wels catfish is a large freshwater fish that’s native to Eastern Europe
  • It’s become a prized sport fish and it’s been introduced to different parts of Europe and Asia as far as the U.K. and China.
  • It’s got a typical catfish look with a long slender body with a broad head and mouth.
  • With their long bodies, they swim in a fashion similar to eels.
  • Their color depends on their environment. Black catfish live in clear water while brown or green fish live in brackish water.
  • Their bellies can be yellow or white

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We have a new measure up intro from Vicky. This one was also procured by Carlos, who’s this person?


  • Catfish grow until they die and they can live for a long time. This supposedly allows them to reach lengths up to 5m (16 ft), which is disputable.
  • How many of the cat Tinker Toy, the smallest cat on record, go into the the Wels catfish.
  • Hint: Tinker Toy was a runt that was born in Illinois in 1990 and lived to be six years old. It was full grown as 2 years old when it made records as the smallest cat.
  • Answer: 25.6 tiny cats! Tinker Toy was 19 cm (7.5 in) long and 7 cm (2.75 in) tall.


  • 300 kg (660 lb)
  • How many of Himmy, the last heaviest can recorded by Guinness in 1998, go into a Wels catfish?
  • Himmy was transported in a wheelbarrow and held the record until it was challenged in 1998. That’s when Guinness editors decided to stop recording individual pet weights to deter people from overfeeding their animals. They also no longer record human gluttony and all food consumptions are based on speed and not overall calorie intake.
  • Himmy was 21.3kg (46lb 15 ½ oz).

Fast Facts

  • The Wels catfish can live as long as fifty years.
  • Most wels catfish don’t grow longer than 7 feet and 190 pounds.
  • Reports of incredible sizes are rare and dubious.
  • The catfish and every member of its order has a weberian apparatus
    • The weberian apparatus is a series of tiny bones that connect the swim bladder to the inner ear and acts as an amplifier.
    • This allows fish of this order to hear things that would otherwise be inditectible to the ear alone. 
  • Catfish also have chemoreceptors that allow them to have a keen sense of smell.
  • They mostly eat worms, gastropods, insects, crustaceans, and fish. Big boys can eat larger prey like ducks, frogs, rodents, and birds.
  • Females can lay as many as 30,000 eggs per kilo of body weight.
  • Males will guard the brood until it hatches. Males even splash water on broods that are exposed by lowering water levels.

Major Fact: Killer Cats

  • With an omnivorous diet and a tendency to eat larger animals like ducks, rats, and even each other, you may be wondering: can this giant eat humans?
  • Well, a Wels catfish that is more than six feet long might have the means and digestive system to kill and eat a child, but what about a full-grown man?
  • There are 19th century documents by the Russian biologist K. T. Kessler that report some specimens getting up to 16 feet long and almost 900 lbs.
    • So yeah, a catfish that big can definitely kill and eat a person
  • But just because they can doesn’t mean they do
    • I mean, the Wels catfish has been called the “European maneater” for over 500 years, but is that just a legend?
  • In August of 2016, a woman was swimming in a lake in Bavaria when she was bitten on the leg by a large fish. After kicking the fish off and swimming to safety, biologists studied the bite and determined it to be a Wels Catfish that was about 6.5 feet long
  • In 2008, several Wels Catfish were caught with human remains in their stomachs in Russia. It isn’t known whether they ate the bodies of people who had already died or if they killed these people.
  • And World Daily News Report (the most reputable and dependable source of news out there) ran a story where a 410-pound, 100-year-old Wels Catfish in Poland was found to have human bones in its stomach as well as a well-preserved German SS eagle pin worn by a Nazi officer.
  • But the Wels Catfish isn’t the only one suspected of being a maneater
  • In 1998, a teenage Indian boy was pulled into the water of the Kali River. Three months later, another young Indian boy was also pulled in. Then, in 2007, a Nepalese teenager was pulled under in the same river by what was described as “a mud-colored water pig”.
    • These attacks all happened within 10 miles of each other
    • Also, a water buffalo was dragged in
    • Jeremy Wade—biologist, zoologist, expert fisherman, and host of River Monsters—investigated these attacks and suspected it was a Goonch Catfish, another giant catfish native to South and Southeast Asia.
    • The people in the area regularly deposit the remains from funeral pyres into the river, so they suggested that the catfish had been eating those remains for decades and growing larger than others of its species.
    • Wade actually caught a Goonch when investigating that weighed three times the average for the species – 6 ft | 161 lbs
  • Theodore Roosevelt mentioned in his naturalist book “Through the Brazilian Wilderness” that the piraiba (pee-ra-ee-ba) catfish that lunged into a canoe with its mouth open. The two fishermen who were inside hacked at it with machetes until it was dead. They brought it back to the city where Roosevelt was stationed and he said it was three meters long (more than nine feet)
    • There is another story of a man who dove below the surface of a branch of the Amazon river and never resurfaced. Soon afterward a piraiba came to the surface with the man’s legs sticking out of its mouth
    • Maybe he actually dove straight into this poor catfish’s mouth!
  • The reality is that most of the pictures out there of a catfish with a person coming out of its mouth are fake. 
    • Catfish swallow their prey whole and have a surprisingly small stomach in comparison to their bodies. Most of them is tail
    • They’re not pythons that can unhinge their jaws and have a huge animal just sit there in its stomach for a month. 
    • It is pretty unlikely that a catfish smaller than 15 feet could swallow a person whole, or would even try to swallow a person whole.
  • However, all three of these catfish are pretty aggressive, and because of their size, I can definitely believe that they are capable of drowning a person.
  • Also, because they’ll eat just about anything, I can also totally see them eating the remains of a person who has already died.
  • So it is possible that these catfish could bite, drag, and drown a person when defending their nests before feeding off of them. However, I don’t think that they actively hunt people or suck them under the water like in every horror movie ever where people wade through waist-high water.
    • The attacks in India and Nepal were probably crocodiles or bull sharks

Man-eating Catfish Lies?

Giant Man-Eating Catfish Found in Guangdong Reservoir is a whale shark with no human remains – https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/giant-man-eating-catfish/

Kali River goonch attacks – A large catfish was found but it was much smaller than needed to pull down full grown men and a water buffalo. The person who conducted the investigation was Jeremy Wade, who was making an episode of “River Monsters.” Sharks and crocs were ruled out because no one saw them. But no one saw a 300 pound fish either.

Nazi remains inside catfish was reported by a fake news outlet called World News Daily – https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/nazi-remains-giant-catfish/

The picture – It appeared in the show River Monsters again. It was a photoshopped recreation that went along with a story of a man that was half eaten by a catfish.


So don’t be picky, but try not to eat any people, and just keep on keepin’ on like the Wels Catfish here in LDT.


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